Sea Scallops with Asparagus Sauce

Seared thick sea scallops served with a simple asparagus and butter sauce.

Plan on 3 sea scallops per person for a light dinner or appetizer, 5 scallops for a full main course. Many sea scallops come with a tough flap of meat attached to them. Just pull it off and either discard or use in a seafood stock. The asparagus sauce is a great way to use the spears of asparagus in case you’ve chopped off the tips for use in another recipe. You’re just puréeing them here, so you’ll never see the tips.

  • Yield: Serves 2.

Ingredients

  • 6 sea scallops*
  • Salt
  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 1/2 cup warm chicken broth (if cooking gluten-free use gluten-free stock)
  • 2-3 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp canola or grapeseed oil or other high smoke-point oil

*Sea scallops are the big scallops, about 1 1/2-inches wide, as opposed to bay scallops which are small, about 1/2-inch wide. Look for “dry pack” scallops, as they are not treated with chemicals to keep them fresh; the chemicals are not overly harmful, but they change the texture of the scallop and make them harder to sear properly.

Method

1 Salt the scallops well and set aside at room temperature while you make the asparagus sauce.

2 Steam the asparagus for the sauce. Use a potato peeler to shave the outer layer off the asparagus spears, up to about three-quarters of the way up the spear. This part is more fibrous and will not break down as well in the blender. Chop into 2-inch pieces. Boil the asparagus in a pot of salted water for 5-8 minutes. This is longer than you’d normally cook asparagus, but you want the spears to blend well later.

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3 Remove the asparagus from the pot. If you want to retain that vibrant green color, shock them in an ice bath. Put them in a food processor or blender. Add half the chicken stock and purée until smooth. (If you want an even smoother texture you can push the purée through a fine mesh sieve or a food mill.) Pour the sauce into a small pot and add the butter. Heat over very low heat until the butter melts, but do not let it boil, or even simmer. The sauce should be warm, not hot. If the sauce is too thick you can add more chicken stock. Add salt to taste.

4 Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel. Heat a sauté pan on high heat. Add a high smoke point oil like canola or grapeseed oil, and let it heat up for 2 minutes. The pan should be very hot. If it starts to smoke, move the pan off the heat. Lay in the scallops in the pan, well separated from each other. You might need to sear in batches.

If your scallops are thicker than 1 inch, turn the heat down to medium-high. Most sea scallops are about an inch. Let them sear without moving for at least 3-4 minutes. Keep an eye on them. You will see a crust beginning to form on the outside edge of the scallop, and the meat will begin to whiten upward. A good time to check the scallop is when you see a golden brown ring at the edge of the scallop. Try picking it up with tongs, and if it comes cleanly, check it – you should see a deep golden sear. If not, let it back down and keep searing.

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5 When the scallops are well seared on one side, turn them over and sear on high heat for 1 minute (give or take). Then turn off the heat. The residual heat will continue to cook the scallops for a few minutes. Let the scallops cook for at least another minute, or more if you like your scallops well-done.

To serve pour a little sauce in the middle of the plate, top with the scallops, the more browned side up.

Serve at once. Garnish with a little chopped parsley if you want, and maybe with a wedge of lemon.

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Comments

  1. Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen

    Getting a nice sear on scallops can be tricky. A lot of times when you try and flip them a piece of the bottom sticks. I find it easiest in a non-stick pan, and actually bought one just for searing scallops. Also, it’s much easier to get a good sear if the scallops are fresh and not frozen. That asparagus sauce looks divine. A beautiful Summer dish.

  2. emiglia

    I went through a scallop period myself a few years ago–it’s a very expensive learning curve! I haven’t tackled a new scallop recipe in quite some time, though. Maybe it’s time?

    My favorite, btw, was the beurre rouge scallop recipe on Epicurious, so if you or dad get an inkling to try something new, I highly recommend it.

  3. BigSri

    Elise,
    Fantastic picture and an informative post about how to properly cook scallops. Thanks. I have never eaten or cooked scallops. What is the texture like? Is it like flounder when well done?
    Sri

    The closest I can come to is a fresh piece of swordfish, cooked perfectly so that it is melt-in-the-mouth tender. The problem with that analogy is that most people overcook swordfish to the point that it is steak-like. So all I can say is that it is like a thick piece of fish, should be very tender, and not as fishy. ~Elise

  4. Ed

    I love your site. I think I’m OK as a cook, so I find it funny that I might have an explanation for your Dad’s browning problem.
    My fish guy carries, but does not sell to his best customers, wet scallops. Wet are the most commonly sold scallops. If you want good scallops you must get dry scallops. An explanation can be found at: http://www.fishex.com/seafood/scallops/scallops-dry-vs-wet.html.
    I disagree with the comment to use a non-stick pan. Good scallops in a very hot cast iron pan will brown beautifully all the time. They must be watched carefully, as they are delicate.

  5. George

    Your pictures show cast iron pan. Another reader above recommends a non-stick pan. But we’ve got mostly all All-Clad. Can I ever be successful with trying to cook sea scallops with aluminum pans?

  6. Naomi

    Looks good. Question – do you steam the asparagus lightly before peeling the outer layer of the spears, and then cook them more to blender-softness by boiling them? Is it easier to peel after they are slightly cooked, or could I do this when they are raw?

    Easy enough to peel when raw. ~Elise

  7. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    Because I love to turn everything into soup, I’d probably take the asparagus sauce just a bit farther — a bit more liquid — to the soup stage, and serve those beautiful scallops like icebergs in the soup. Also, I’m very lucky to get freshly picked asparagus from my local farm, and when they are very fresh, they generally don’t need to be peeled, especially if they’re going into sauce or soup.

  8. Cathie

    I absolutely love both ingredients! But I think instead of boiling or steaming the aspargus, I would probably grill or roast them, as they take on a different taste which I personally like better. Bon Appetit!!!

  9. gordon macgillvray

    Nice recipe! Iwould never have thought of asparagas with scallops.For anyone who wants the best local cape and islands sea and Martha’s Vineyard bay scallops there is a fish market on the Vineyard called The Net Result that will ship anywhere next day air. Just thought y’all might like to know.–Gordon–

  10. Martha H.Kaye

    For a further explanation of why sea scallops don’t always brown properly, Ed gave a website, which I tried, but they are moving to a new server. However, I read the following explanation by Susan Selasky in our local paper(which worked for me) and I paraphrase here:

    Fresh, dry-packed sea scallops are not treated or soaked in tripolyphosphate, which is added to increase their weight and extend their shelf life. The preservative causes them to absorb moisture, then during cooking, that absorbed water releases and almost steams the scallops, sometimes preventing a really good sear. Further, if one uses oil for searing the TREATED scallops, the resulting moisture will cause the oil to spatter.

    To avoid this buy fresh, dry-packed sea scallops…. They should be creamy light beige or off-white…. If they are stark white, they may have been treated with the preservative.

    Thank you for the explanation Martha. ~Elise

  11. HankShaw

    In answer to some of the questions on which pan to use, I personally cannot recommend a non-stick pan. Non-stick pans are not meant to be put over the extreme high heat you need to brown a wet-pack scallop — the other commenter is exactly right, “dry pack” scallops are the premiere scallop, are not treated with chemicals and brown WAAAY easier. Wet-pack are more common and are far cheaper, though.

    I use cast iron mostly, but I also use a stainless steel All-Clad pan a lot. Both work fine for me. The key is to not mess with your scallops when you are getting that caramel-brown on the “good” side. Don’t flip them until they’ll lift. Then just kiss the other side; you can scrape that side with a metal spatula to remove the scallops if need be, as it will be the “down” side facing the plate, not your guest.

    Anyway, those are my $0.02.

    – Hank

  12. TexasDeb

    This recipe deserves to be made based upon that photo alone. What beautiful colors Elise. A++ for the styling on this post, and of COURSE the recipe is a keeper – they always are!

    My son who is a chef stated that there is no reason to try and make scallops unless you can get the dry pack – the wet ones simply won’t sear and you’ve wasted your time, your money, and given yourself and other diners a wrong idea about how scallops are supposed to taste (wet pack, he maintains will steam and over cook in the process of trying to develop a sear…).

    That might make scallops more a rarity on home tables, but given our tendency to over fish/farm the au courant favorites that might not be so bad.

    And asparagus sauce – what a great idea – I am thinking about 5 more applications for it even as I type.

  13. Espahan

    I am always amazed at your ability to teach old dogs new tricks. Moi! I love scallops but have shied away from them for lack of knowing how to prepare them and not really finding recipes that appeal to me. I will definitely try this one following your directions. I particularly like the addition of the asparagus sauce, how lovely, and it just says spring. This would make a good company dish to serve.

  14. Cynthia

    I just love all your recipes, there is not one that I tried and did not like. I’m going to make this tonight I have some scallops I picked up at the market and some fresh wild asparagus I picked myself yesterday. Wild Asparagus has so much more flavor than store bought and is much tender. I think I’ll serve it over pasta, mmm can’t wait to dig in thanks for the great tips on cooking scallops! I make a very similar pasta asparagus lemon sauce the only difference is I add 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest and and 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  15. George

    From a complete novice: I had never tried scallops before, but wanted to try this because of the simplicity and beauty. However, Whole Foods only had bay scallops in dry pack, or sea scallops in wet pack. Per the warnings above, I went ahead and bought the smaller bay scallops. It actually worked out very well, as the kids (ages 6 and 8) thought of them more as “nuggets”.

    Neither kids nor wife was a fan of the asparagus sauce. I loved it. When I do it next time, I will add 2-3 whole asparagus to each plate as a garnish and for those who don’t like the sauce.

    I also found that it cools off very quickly, so warm the plates and get everyone to dinner asap.

  16. Pappa Grande

    I use grape seed oil exclusively for searing, scallops, beef etc. It is on the expensive side and a little goes a long way when using with high heat cooking. The secret is to not disturb the protein you are using until you see the color deepen along the edge after 3-4 min, the flip side does not need as long. Dry scallops are the only way to go, look around!

  17. Hai

    Thanks for the recipe. My boyfriend and I both enjoyed it.

  18. Sara

    I have never made scallops but my boyfriend bought some frozen and on a day we didn’t want to go to the grocery store he said why don’t you make the scallops with a white sauce. He has good ideas but I have to figure out how to make them happen. More times then not, Simply Recipes has the answer. I followed this one for the scallops and made the white sauce from the creamy shrimp and broccoli. Darn it was good.. I added some sugar peas for sass. Your site is one of my favorites. Thanks

  19. Jerome

    I had a left over of asparagus, and scallops in the freezer, so I decided to try mixing my usual scallop recipe with this one. I usually grill some orange, yellow and/or red bell peppers along with my scallops in olive oil, with Sel de Guérande and lots of ground black pepper. I saved the tips of the asparagus and threw them in at the end to grill (fry?) them a bit. I sprinkled the scallops and asparagus with a bit of lemon juice at the end.

    For the sauce I used a bit of oyster sauce and a bit of water to blend, because I didn’t have any chicken stock offhand. I also added pepper, salt and thyme for a bit more taste.

    The asparagus sauce was separating a bit, even though I boiled the asparagus for quite long… And I always have the same trouble with the scallops moisture coming out before it grills, because I use olive oil and I don’t want to ruin the oil so I’m afraid to put the heat too high.

    But in the end it was all very delicious!!

    Here’s what it looked like: http://www.ecere.com/scallops.jpg.

    Thanks.

  20. Susan

    This has nothing to do with the appetizer but I wanted to say I was VERY surprised to see the dinnerware used in the Scallops with Asparagus Sauce photo. I bought several sets of that Copen blue china about 30+ years ago in Finland and shipped it to NYC. This is the second time in all those years I’ve ever seen it anywhere but in my kitchen cabinet.